History of Ceramic Technologies
and Ceramic Decal Printers
For many thousands of years people have been painting with inorganic (ceramic) paints. The earliest of these were little more than dirt, in a variety of colors, mixed with water. Paintings on cave walls and prehistoric clay pots still survive with their pictures intact. Due to the impressive durability of ceramics, these paints were widely used and over time become more refined. The clay substrates evolved into various shapes such as tiles and tableware and the process of firing improved. Various colored tiles assembled into mosaics adorn temples through various parts of the world and are still beautiful after many hundreds of years in outdoor exposure. The durability of ceramic materials established them as the materials of choice in numerous applications and end uses.
The first significant advancement in ceramic printing technologies was the introduction of screen printing. While used for many centuries in the orient, screen printing was introduced in Europe in the 1700’s with the greater availability of silk used to weave fine mesh screens – hence the moniker “silk screening.” In the early 1900’s, photo-sensitive chemistry was introduced and simplified the creation of the print screen. Photo chemistry advanced throughout the 1900’s and as it did screen printing became a standard industrial and artistic method for imaging a wide variety of materials in addition to ceramic materials. It remains an industry standard for print runs in the hundreds to thousands of copies and has expanded well beyond ceramic inks/glazes to include a wide variety of synthesized organic dyes and pigment based printing inks.
Two of the most significant disadvantages of screen printing are the cost of making the screen itself and the image resolution limitations of multicolor screen decorations which require a screen for each color in the decoration printed one at a time in registration. The cost of making screens limited the economic usefulness of screen printing technology to runs of several hundred or more of a specific design. This limitation disappeared with the introduction of ink jet printing and various other digital printing technologies in the late 70’s. Digital printing, ink jet specifically, has enabled inexpensive printing of one item at a time and has revolutionized the printing and photography industries. You no longer send film to a photo shop to be developed, you print your digital photos on your desktop ink jet printer. Unfortunately, ink jet is only useful for printing with organic inks. The physical properties of ceramic pigments make them very difficult to print through an ink jet printer. As a consequence, ceramic printing remained a screen technology through the digital revolution of the 80’s and most of the 90’s. Ceramic screen printing can be used to print directly onto flat surfaces or used as a ceramic decal printer.
Enter Michael Zimmer. In the 1990’s, Michael Zimmer, founder of MZ Toner Technologies, filed patents on the first of his digital ceramic technologies. His digital ceramic printing inventions (read about his patents) used LASER print technology, not ink jet. Through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s Mr. Zimmer expanded his patent estate to cover ceramic pigment based toner formulations and a variety of digital ceramic technologies for printing his patented ceramic toners. In essence, his invention is the first and only patented digital ceramic decal printer. The result of the print is a digital ceramic decal that can be used to decorate a very wide variety of ceramic materials in economic quantities of one to one thousand. Enduring Images is the only authorized North American distributor for MZ Toner Technologies, the original patented digital ceramic printing technology.